WASHINGTON, D.C. --- According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, August and September are among the most deadly periods on the roadways. The nation has made dramatic progress in reducing drunk driving deaths, but there were still more than 11,000 alcohol-impaired deaths in 2008 -- deaths that were completely preventable.
The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) said its member state highway safety offices are joining forces with law enforcement officers across the country to take part in the national "Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest." crackdown on impaired driving during the Labor Day holiday period.
The crackdown, which runs from Aug. 21 through Sept. 7, includes sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols, as well as a $13 million national media campaign supplemented by state-funded advertising.
This year, increased awareness is focused on women, who represent a growing percentage of drunk drivers. According to FBI figures that cover about 56 percent of country, the number of women arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs was 28.8 percent higher in 2007 than it was in 1998, while the number of men arrested declined 7.5 percent. Additionally, a new study from the Washington University School of Medicine reports a 40-percent increase in binge drinking among women ages 21 to 23 from 1979 to 2006.
State data also demonstrate this trend. In California, women accounted for nearly 19 percent of all DUI arrests in 2007, compared with 14 percent in 1998. Minnesota also saw a 5-percent increase in female DUI arrests during this period. Other states including Vermont, Missouri, New Jersey and New Mexico reported similar trends. States are beginning to address this trend in their media messaging. New Mexico recently conducted a campaign entitled "Women Drive Drunk, Too."
Barbara Harsha, executive director of GHSA, said she expects more states to focus on anti-DUI efforts toward women.
"Women are driving more like men and, unfortunately, have picked up some of their dangerous habits," Harsha said. "While males continue to represent the large majority of DUI arrests, it is alarming that women's rates have increased so significantly."
While the crackdown's enforcement and education components are helping to curb the number of drunk drivers on the road, progress is also being made on the legislative and technological fronts. An increasing number of states now require all convicted DUI offenders have an alcohol ignition interlock installed on their vehicle. This device measures a driver's blood alcohol content (BAC).